Note: So, so, SO sorry for the huge gap in updates. I had written a good portion of this in my astronomy notebook, and then the semester ended and I forgot where I put the notebook... But I eventually found it buried in my trunk, finished up the chapter, and TA DA!

Two Week Leave
Chapter FIVE

Azure pulled Joel up to the entrance where he gave their tickets to the woman standing there.  "So, what do we do first?" she asked excitedly.

"Let's ride an elephant."

"Ew!" Azure squealed. "That's sick. I'm not sitting on an elephant! Come up with something else."

Just as he was about to speak, a man came stumbling over wearing dirty rags. "Hug a leper!" he cried and Joel glanced at him warily. Azure grinned and threw her arms around the man.

"Oh, you're a lucky boy!" the man cackled. Joel wasn't thrilled with the way the man still held on to Azure. He shifted his weight back and forth on his heel and held his tongue between his teeth until he couldn't stand it any longer.

"Yeah, lucky… Listen, we have to move along now. C'mon, Az." He grabbed onto her arm and pulled her away.

They walked side by side in silence for a few minutes before Azure turned to Joel. "What was up with the macho act back there? We were just hugging. I thought you were supposed to get into the act here?"

Joel scowled. "That guy probably doesn't even work for this place. He probably just wants to feel up unsuspecting visitors," he grumbled. Azure rolled her eyes.

"You're such a guy," she scoffed and playfully bumped into him. He only crossed his arms as his scowl got deeper.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he replied testily. Such a guy? Ugh. He glanced over at her from the corner of his eye, waiting for some sort of answer.

He never got a chance to hear it when she suddenly grabbed his wrist and pulled him over to a small stage off to the side of the dirt path. There was another stage set up on top of it with a small window cut out. Two puppets dressed in Renaissance garb were talking to each other as animatedly as puppets can. Joel stole a glance at Azure and couldn't help but smile at the look of amusement on her face as the puppets argued back and forth at each other.

She hadn't had the opportunity to do things like this when she was younger, he knew. Her family was far from poor, but was definitely conservative and rarely spent money on things that weren't necessary.  He used to hate her parents for not letting her go to places like this because it only made the kids at school tease her even more.  That usually landed him in the office with a black eye and a detention for trying to defend her, though she never knew that was why.  But seeing how she turned out, how selfless she was, just made him adore her parents even more. They obviously knew what they were doing. 

It was great that she was actually having such a good time - she hadn't complained once since they'd entered the fair grounds. This was the Azzie he knew and loved. No make-up, no fancy hairstyle… Just his plain old Azure laughing and having a good time. Joel's face reddened at this last thought. His Azure?

He still hadn't figured out what was suddenly causing these thoughts and feelings, but they were driving him crazy. He figured he'd be able to bring her here and they could both forget what had happened the last time they'd been with each other, but apparently she was the only one it was working for. He, on the other hand, couldn't get his mind off of her. He couldn't look at her eyes, because then his feelings would be obvious for sure. He couldn't look at her mouth, or he'd lose any control he'd managed to keep so far. As for anything below the neck – that was all definitely out. He was fairly certain ravishing someone in the middle of a public place was somehow illegal.

"Joel?"  He snapped out of his thoughts as he heard Azure calling his name. Looking over, he noticed her staring expectantly at him.

"Sorry, Az," he answered after clearing his throat. "I spaced there for a second… What'd you say?"

Azure raised her eyebrow. "Apparently. I was just asking if you wanted to go sit up in the stands for awhile. I think they're going to start that horse thing pretty soon."

He smiled.  "Jousting?"  She shrugged and led him to the stands where she chose a secluded spot up at the top.

"Thanks for bringing me here, Joel," she said quietly when they were finally situated. 

"It's no problem," he responded quickly, directing it more towards the woman on the other side of him than to Azure. He cringed at how abrupt he sounded and hoped she didn't notice. 

Azure sighed and stared at her hands. "I… I know it wasn't any problem, but I really appreciate it anyway. I've never been here before. Probably would have never ended up coming anyway, if it wasn't for you."

"I know you haven't been here before," he told her, finally looking into her eyes. He didn't care if she could see how he felt anymore. "Az, I know everything about you. You're my best friend.  That's what you're always going to be," he added sadly.

Swiping at her eyes quickly, Azure drew a shaky breath and tried to stop the tears that were beginning to fall before Joel noticed them. It didn't do her any good, though, as she let out an uncontrollable sob and put her hand over her mouth.

"Azure?" Joel said worriedly and twisted around to sit on the bench in front of her. "Oh, Azzie, please don't cry…" He reached out and pulled her into his arms, letting her sob into his shoulder. "Why are you crying?"

"I d-don't know," she sobbed, wiping at her eyes with a handkerchief he had dug out of his pocket. "I'm sorry. I'll be f-fine…" 

Joel pushed her head up with his finger so that he could look into her eyes, making it obvious that he didn't believe a word she said.  She looked away for a second before bringing his eyes back to his.

"It's… it's just that no one has ever done anything like this for me before. Besides my parents, no one has ever really cared."

"Az, that's not true! I've always cared about you," he protested. She only stared down at her hands and shrugged. "Listen, stay here, okay? I'll be back in about 20 minutes."  With that, Joel ran down the bleachers and headed off down one of the paths.

Azure sat there for the 20 minutes, nervously waiting for Joel to come back and wondering where he went to begin with. Finally, she saw him headed back towards her, one hand behind his back. "For m'lady," he said, bringing out a rose preserved in red wax.  Azure gasped and looked up at him with wide eyes.

"Joel, that's… Thank you so much!" She wrapped her arms around him, sending jolts of electricity through his body for the second time that day.

Luckily, the rose was just the right thing to get Azure in a better mood and the two of them spent the rest of the day having a great time. In no time at all, they found themselves in Joel's truck again on their way home. They were both silent as he pulled up in front of her house.

"So… Thanks again for taking me, Joel. I had a great time." She started reaching for the handle of the door when he reached out and put a hand on her arm.

"Wait… I just wanted to tell you that there are more people out there besides your parents who care about you. Don't ever think anything different, okay? Promise me…"

With tears springing to her eyes again, Azure nodded. "I promise," she whispered hoarsely. She felt frozen in place as Joel leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. She wanted to turn her head, to pull away from him, but the minute their lips touched, she couldn't move. It wasn't as frantic as their first kiss, but neither of them could really care less at this point.

They parted breathlessly and Joel ran his thumb across her bottom lip. "Az… Azzie, I love you," Joel finally said to her.

Azure's eyes went wide in fear. "I…"  Her throat closed up on her, preventing any oxygen from entering her lungs. She gasped for breath as she groped around on the door trying to find the handle. Finally locating it, she flung it open and made a dash for the door, rose still clutched in her hand, and leaving Joel sitting there in shock.